A few days ago, I saw a post on Tumblr, both brave and heartbreaking. The poster is a big fan of Richard Armitage and spends a big part of her life watching, reading, and talking about him. She also has a history of depression and uses her crush/fantasies to stave it off. Initially, she thought she would be happy to know that RA was happy with somebody. But she became “incredibly sad,” as she described, over the RA/Lee Pace rumors, crying for hours. Then she realized that the rumors regarding Lee Pace himself didn’t distress her. What bothered her was the idea of RA being with anybody, male or female. So she could not believe the rumors or any rumors because doing so would threaten her happiness – her survival. She knew her view was selfish, but she deemed it a necessary buffer against depression.
I found the post to be remarkably honest and brave. It was a hard admission to make because every fan thinks they want what their crush needs to be happy. Not many open minded fans will admit to secretly harboring such feelings. As a person with depression, I can totally sympathize with needing to protect what makes one happy. At times, the need to focus on something and get away from one’s misery can be overpowering and certainly, immersing oneself in the crush, in fandom activities can be productive and rewarding. Look at the all the creative projects and friendships begun because of this fandom. Fantasies, up to a point, are an integral part of crushing; it idealizes the person. We think the crush is somehow better looking, talented – special. There’s nothing wrong with this viewpoint. That’s the nature of crushing. The poster inserts herself into her fantasies which makes her feel good. It’s what she enjoys. However, she wants to protect that lest she falls back into depression. I can understand her reasoning up to a point but I am unsettled because the poster fails to understand that being so deeply protective and inured in that fantasy comes at a cost.
This post isn’t about whether any truth to the Rich/Lee rumors will ruin fans’ fantasies. It’s about when crushes and attendant fantasies flip from rewarding to detrimental. In my opinion, the poster’s objective of throwing herself into the fandom to stave off depression is only a temporary bandage. What I find unsettling and heartbreaking is her desire to not temper fantasy with reality or face her issues. What will she do if RA publicly states he’s with somebody? Should she simply wait for her fantasy to implode to the detriment of her mental health? Is this the route crushes and fantasies should take? How far is too far?
I believe crushing should always be tempered with the here and now. It’s important to enjoy oneself but stay grounded in the process. It’s one thing to say that crushing makes one happy, but another to totally rely on that person as the primary source and call it survival. Disappointment is bound to happen because a crush is only human, fallible. Remember when I said fantasies are good up to a point? Yes, they are as long as they don’t seek to harm anybody including oneself. If a fan sees that his or her fantasy is bound to cause self-grief, then it’s time to step away, reassess what is happening, and take steps to deal with the real issues. Crushing is supposed to be a joyful enriching experience, not lead to depression and tears. The poster has already reached the point where crushing had turned detrimental; her willful denial is just delaying the inevitable.
What if the fan can’t let it go? What if things have progressed to total devastation at the thought of a fantasy being ruined? After 20 years in fandom, I believe the answer is simple but hard to do – walk away and get help. Yes, leave the fandom until some equilibrium can be regained. Time and again I’ve seen it as the only viable solution. It’s possible to become so enmeshed in a crush, like the poster, that a fan can lose touch with the initial objective. The poster will survive even though she thinks she won’t; she’s too locked in the jaws of depression to see it now. But hopefully with the guidance of trained mental health professionals, she will have achieved better perspective and control of the depression.
Looking at the bigger picture, I’ve seen many occasions where it seemed fans either needed to take a break or leave the fandom to determine what they really want. Flame wars and heartlessly vicious arguments on forums are the biggest red lights. Both signal that fans have become so deeply invested in the crush that the coin has turned from beneficial to detrimental. So, be it Rich/Lee rumors, rumors in general or any other vicious bone of contention, if raging, crying, and depression enter the picture, it’s time to assess how far is too far and change course.